This past Friday and Saturday evenings, Somerville’s own Nathaniel Abreu, fifteen year old Nathaniel Abreu, put on an amazing performance at the Concord Performing Arts Center, Concord, MA. Those of us who were lucky enough to be there, knew we had been touched by something special.
Nathaniel is one in the long line of the extraordinary artists our town of Somerville is so well known for. It is a town rife with writers, poets, painters and sculptors, and now this amazing cello player is the next to step up and stand in the center.
From the moment he sits down on stage and begins playing on this night, he leaps into another place, a place where music lives. He becomes the notes, the tempo, the timbre. He becomes the music. And joyfully, he takes us with him.
Earlier, being introduced, he enters and moves toward and onto the stage and you have no idea what you are about to experience will be so extraordinary, no inkling of what is about to happen to you.
The way he looks, quiet, reserved, gratified even to be here. Humble looking, almost surprised to be receiving all this attention, the people standing and clapping and cheering. Here he is, the winner of the prestigious Ehlers Young Artist Competition, an artist who performed at Tanglewood Music Center this past summer, a high level student at the New England Conservatory of Music, and he seemed to be saying, “Hey, it’s just me, after all.”
But then, those of you who know Nathaniel, know that is just the way he is. He takes it all in matter of factly. He is, as his many friends attest to and his family members know so well, one of the nicest people you are ever likely to meet. He is a person it is a pleasure to be with and to spend time with.
Once sitting and ready, he nods to the conductor. The moment fills, broadens, becomes big. The orchestra begins, he lays his bow across the strings of his cello. Suddenly it isn’t just the notes he is playing, it is something else, something more, the music is playing through him. He is it. He is the music.
Each note carries an accompanying expression on his face. The music is running through him. And where is he? Where has he suddenly gone? His body is there; the self is lifted. It is towering above us. He is towering above us. Meanwhile his sounds run through the veins of each of us in attendance.
He is speaking to the feel and the sense of what he was playing. Each note the orchestra behind him plays, moves through his body, turning it this way and that. Each sound of his cello impressing on the audience.
The piece being played, Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 1, has many leaps and ventures. It is at times robust and rambunctiousness, rousing and roaring where many notes form and move quickly, behind each other as if a head wind were pushing at them. At other times it seeks and finds that state of grace in quiet, quiet transcending moments
When it roars, Nathaniel gathers and leans over his cello, almost falling into his cello. He is his cello. His cello is he. Each playing each note in its own time, giving its own life, its own place, its own reverence and exalted place in the universe.
In the quieter moments of the piece, he caresses the music, he caresses his cello, playing each of the soft, subtle, each of the tender and sweet notes, giving what each calls to him for, what each stands for, what each means. He lives each note, celebrating each as it passes one to the next. Bringing in romance, the strength of the emotion. He was there inside the romance of it, inside the emotion of it. Yes, inside of each those moments where the music lives. A look around the audience, tears are falling onto cheeks, shirts and blouses, each in the audience deep inside the spell of the moment, transfixed. Each somewhere else with him. He has taken us to where he is.
Watching and listening, listening and watching you know he has transcended where he is. He has become the music. He is in the place artists go. The air vibrates with his presence.
In between moments when he is playing, he waits for the music to pass and his time to come back again, his bow high in the air.
As he waits with bow in the air, waiting for the next moment he would lay his bow across the cello strings, his body moves, shaped itself into each note, each chord, each syllable of the music the orchestra plays behind him.
He is an extension of the piece he is playing powerful notes being played behind him. The bassoons, the flutes, the French horns with their ever haunting musical motion and feel. He is an extension of all of the moment. As he senses and feel all that behind him, he falls in going deep into the wonder of it, so deep you wonder if he is really there before us any longer or if he is somewhere only he knows about.
Suddenly the crescendo is upon us. His hair flying, his left hand running up and down the neck of his cello, his right hand driving and diving with his bow, the orchestra roaring behind him, his head bobbing up and down, his cello vibrating, back and forth it moves, almost impossibly staying in place,
And then the last note is sounded, the bow lifts in triumph. It is over. The audience is on its feet. Bravo. Cheering.